Speculation Continues Over Immigrant Relief Proposals in Senate

Nov 30, 2021
11:13 AM

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., right, listens as Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, March 23, 2021. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senators returned to Capitol Hill on Monday to speculation over what comes next in immigration relief negotiations concerning the Build Back Better Act.

Last Wednesday, Democratic aides met with Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough to discuss immigrant parole, the third proposal to include immigrant relief in the budget reconciliation bill.

MacDonough, a former immigrant prosecutor, advised against the first two Democratic proposals—the first for a confusing immigrant legalization program, the second for a simple change to the existing immigration statute called “registry.”

Aides emerged from Wednesday’s meeting with MacDonough to optimistic press reports about the third relief proposal, immigrant parole, a temporary, quasi-status for qualifying immigrants designed by a Beltway policy shop called Immigration Hub.

But early Monday morning the optimism was shattered by a Punchbowl report saying MacDonough “is likely to knock out the immigration provisions included in the House bill. This will lead to a major challenge for Democratic leaders and the White House with pro-immigration groups.”

Grassroots immigrant rights groups nationwide have publicly opposed the decision to replace registry with parole in the House version of the bill, which passed on November 19. Reports suggest big changes will be made to the text in the upper chamber, but details were scarce Monday as senators scrambled against GOP obstruction on the massive, annual defense bill.

Every hour of every workday on Capitol Hill is precious in this Congress, especially for Senate Democrats newly tasked with forging consensus on President Biden’s mantelpiece social spending plan.

December begins with a standoff over defense spending in the Senate and a debt fight looming as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) does everything he can procedurally to push the Democrats’ budget reconciliation deeper into next year’s midterm season.

Despite occasional media reports to the contrary, immigrant relief remains on the table for Build Back Better. Parole is an unpopular proposal the House has sent over to the Senate, whereas registry, while popular, was informally rejected by MacDonough, whom Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) calls the “51st Senator.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called MacDonough “the Byrd Lady,” a reference to Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), the namesake of budget reconciliation rules in the Senate that give the Parliamentarian an outsized say in which proposals are included in a given bill.

Any senator can object to anything in budget reconciliation. Objections trigger what are called “Byrd Baths” in Capitol parlance, or closed-door meetings where Senate aides from both parties present their arguments to the Parliamentarian who, in turn, issues non-binding guidance to the Senate.

Regardless of a Byrd Bath’s outcome, guidance issued by the Parliamentarian can be disregarded by the vice president in her Constitutionally appointed role as the presiding officer of the Senate.

“We have to see how the Parliamentarian scores it,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) told Latino Rebels in October.

Excluded so far from relief in the bill is a massive backlog of immigrants on family- or work-based visas. The so-called “green card backlog” was addressed in an earlier version of the House bill.

On November 3, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) indicated to Latino Rebels that additional relief for immigrants in the green card backlog would eventually be sent for Parliamentarian review. Recapturing unused visas and the early adjustment of legal status are two sticking points for backlog advocates.

So far, Senate Democrats have not sent the additional relief proposals for a formal Parliamentarian review since the first was rejected on September 29. MacDonough distinguished in her guidance on Plan A between the undocumented community the legalization program sought to help and “persons who were already admissible and not barred under law from applying for status,” i.e., the green card backlog.

“Immigration is a clusterfuck,” said a senior Senate aide Monday on the condition of anonymity. “Parole now has to fail for registry to get back on the table, but that only works if 51 senators agree to break a Byrd Bath.”


Pablo Manríquez is the Washington correspondent for Latino Rebels. Twitter: @PabloReports